I’m often asked questions such as “What exactly DO you DO?” and “Where are you now?”, but the one that I encounter the most is “How do you even get a job like that?”. The yachting industry isn’t exactly one that is in your face as opposed to other careers, and it’s not like you can major in “yachting” at your local university. In fact for most people, yachting seems to be an enigmatic industry, reserved for those with piles of money who already have enough summer/winter homes and want to feel like P. Diddy (or are P. Diddy) cruising around the Med with girls in bikinis.
However, yachting is a very real and busy industry and if you want to see the world and are willing to work hard then you can become a part of it too (although the only ones feeling like P. Diddy would be the owners, so I can’t help you there). Unlike backpacking, you are not going to be pinching dimes and you will know where you are going to be sleeping every night (not in the world, but on the boat). Although on the flip side, often you won’t get to see as much of each place as those who are traveling on the road with all of their belongings in tow. I ended up getting extremely lucky and finding a job where I do get sufficient time to explore, but know that it isn’t always the case.
If you are interested in this kind of work, the first thing you need to do is get what is called an ‘STCW 95′ which is your basic yachting certification, required for anyone who wants to work on yachts in any capacity. Courses are offered all over the world, but a great place to take it is in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Ft. Lauderdale is a major yacht port and every fall yachts migrate from all over the world for the annual Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show at the end of October. If you arrive about a month prior to the show, you will have a good chance of finding work, as all of the boats need extra help preparing. The STCW course covers skills including first aid, basic yacht knowledge, firefighting (yes, I did really say firefighting) and water tests. I took my week-long STCW course at IYT (International Yacht Training) and it cost about $1000. IYT was great as they helped find accommodation with other yacht crew and hopefuls while you are in town as well as with networking to help you find a job and help you with formatting your CV/resume.
At this point you should consider what route you want to take- entry level yachting positions are usually either as a stewardess working in the interior, or as a deckhand working on deck (duh, deck-hand). However, in my course there were also a couple of chefs getting their certifications and I know one of them just finished an exciting season serving up delicious fresh mediterranean fare for charter guests while cruising around the coasts of Italy and France.
After you take your STCW course and have a decent idea of what specifics you are looking for (although don’t be too choosy- you are a newbie), you will want to sign up with as many agencies as possible, which is fairly easy to do as Ft. Lauderdale is teeming with them. During the month of October the agencies have all sorts of networking parties set up and they are good opportunities to meet with other crew and exchange information (just be careful, the yachting industry is small so if you get wasted and make a fool of yourself, word will get around pretty quickly). Any place or instructor you take your STCW with will have plenty of recommended agencies for you to look into as well, so don’t worry about knowing any beforehand.
Another good way to make contacts and find work is by “dockwalking”. This method entails literally walking around various docks and handing your CV/resume to any yachts or captains/crew that may potentially need extra help. Through dockwalking you could potentially find a job or even just daywork which is only temporary but will give you hands on experience, extra cash to keep you stable while looking for full time work, as well as a possible recommendation. This is another good reason I took my course in the US, because as a US citizen, you don’t have to worry about customs and immigration while soliciting for work. I know a few foreigner friends who had to be careful while dockwalking, and even heard a few rumors of others being deported (but personally I don’t know anyone who had an issue).
There are a bunch of other great resources, one of them being www.dockwalk.com (don’t get too sucked into the gossip forums and horror stories though. They are on there for a reason, and written mostly by those who have too much free time.). Also, for daywork to help keep your finances in check while looking for work, I logged in daily to www.daywork123.com. There are a number of books as well written by former “yachties” that you can get some preliminary information from to decide if this job is right for you. One that a friend of mine read and recommended was “The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess: Confessions from My Years Afloat with the Rich and Famous” by Julie Perry.
As for my experience, I did everything I just detailed and had a bit of a hard time finding work, I’m not going to lie. I saved about $3,000 (after paying for the course ahead of time) and also took an additional stewardess-centric course offered by IYT (which was an additional $500 or so that I paid for ahead of time as well). The $3,000 went towards my accommodation which was fairly priced at about $100-$150 per week, depending on where you stay (for the sake of giving advice, I had an awful experience with the Neptune Group Crew accommodations, but was very pleased with Smart Move accommodations). It also went toward other basic expenses like food (and drinks…). After a few months, when it had quieted down from the boat show chaos, jobs were more available as much of the competition had left for other yachting destinations. Really, it all comes down to how hard you are willing to look for work, along with a little bit of luck.
My job is a bit of a strange one even in the yachting world as our itinerary is worldwide and our crew is somewhat relaxed. We have a small crew for our size yacht, but it means we really work hard and have less of the large crew drama (read the book, look on dockwalk.com- you’ll see what I mean). Also, we hardly ever have owners on board and we don’t charter to paying guests. I could go on forever as there always seems to be two questions for every factoid I offer, but this is a blog post and not a novel so i’ll leave it here. If you have any questions at all though, I’m always happy to help and give my two cents (my main resource was a friend in the industry and his insight was invaluable, so really- ask me anything).
Fair winds and following seas my friends!